For some, spring racing is Christmas come early – a chance to get the guys together, suit up, and give the beer a good nudge, all prior to lunch time. It’s the only time of the year where you can get completely rinsed and look like someone your grandmother might respect in the process.
Year round, most of us are restricted to the simple sartorial palette of corporate life. During racing season, not so much. Come October, an entirely different rule book comes into play, particularly when track side, and it’s an opportunity to make that bold sartorial statement you’ve thought too much for the office.
Acing the racing season is about more than just picking a winner and ensuring you don’t fall face-first into the grass before you’ve won your money back.
Your Suit Choice Is Everything
If there is only one non-negotiable for racing season, it’s finding the right kit. And while separates – a blazer and trousers – are quickly becoming the go-to, there’s still a place for the classic two-piece. Particularly for some of the bigger race meets, a suit in pale grey or blue is a great way to straddle the line between formal tailoring and the frivolity of Spring Racing.
As with your work suits, synthetic materials are for suckers. Stick to natural fibres and a slim fit. Many brands are now experimenting with new takes on tradition when it comes to tailoring and it’s worth experimenting with what works for you. The cardinal rule is keep it trim – not tight. After all, it’s a suit, not compression wear.
Wearing What’s Known As ‘Separates’
Despite what we just said, it’s no longer expressly mandatory to suit up at the races. Separates can be worn on some of the more casual racing days and they’re particularly handy if you don’t want to spend a matzah on a completely new suit every time you head to the track. However, if you’re embracing separates there are some rules to follow.
Use a dedicated blazer for the occasion (not one of your suit jackets). Cotton and linen are great alternatives to wool, and with less focus on tradition you can experiment with different colours and patterns. Bold checks are enjoying some time in the sun this season so jump on board, blocking with a plain white shirt, floral tie and contrasting trousers.
The trousers you pair with your blazer are equally important. Avoid clashing prints and focus on a block base that leads the eye to the jacket. Ensure that they’re tailored correctly too, opting for a slightly higher crop if you’re that way inclined. This ensures your look feels purposeful and not like you’ve just whacked on a bold jacket over a pair of work pants.
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Gone are the days where a crisp white shirt was mandatory for entry to the races.
With the exception of some of the more formal race days – Flemington’s Derby – you’ve now got way more to choose from.
If it’s a white shirt, go for a neat point collar or perhaps contrast buttons to differentiate it from your work stuff. Patterns – florals, checks, and geometry – used to cop a bit of heat but can (and should) be done. Lean into this season’s trends by blocking similar hues (like pale coral) in different patterns. Make sure it’s tastefully coordinated with your tie, and don’t go for a pattern salad. You can avoid this by incorporating patterns that are different sizes i.e. large checks and a smaller paisley print.
Choose Your Footwear Wisely
Even if you end up losing them later that night, you’ll never make a good entrance to the races without solid footwear. Here we break down the classics and the upstarts that might be better options.
A wardrobe staple for any gent, these will be your bread and butter for the season. They should be leather, not purchased from the bottom of a clearance bin, and polished before the day.
Loafers on the other hand, are the next best thing (and twice as comfortable). Suede, horse bit loafers or even driving shoes add a rakish, dressed-down element to the pomp of the day. Given they exude a more laid-back feel, ensure that they’re well maintained and invest in a suede brush to give them a fresh lease on life once you’re done tearing up the track.
Only The Best Accessories
Everyone seems to enjoy a good accessory binge during racing season. And while we acknowledge there might be a peacock hiding inside every solemn corporate gent, there are rules about when and when not to deck yourself out in every piece of shiny treasure under the sun.
The Perfect Tie
Knitted or grenadine – are a must (you’re not going to Friday knock-offs after all). Keep the colours simple and make sure you don’t overload the look with patterns. Avoid anything Wall Street shiny or wide, and be mindful about what you’re pairing it with. A bold, patterned shirt with a thick striped tie doesn’t look good on anyone.
Expert Tie Tip
Tie knots are the next key thing: unless you fancy resembling an overly corporate fat cat, stay away from the ugly and pompous Windsor knot and think about a more rakish alternative, like the double four-in-hand.
These are a staple, but can be tricky: too much colour coordination looks like you hired a personal stylist (no good) but if you’re not going bling-heavy elsewhere, tie pins can be a neat way to compliment your outfit’s primary colour.
Another popular accessory, but again, the wrong one will scream ‘corporate’ in an environment where everyone is trying to forget about Microsoft Excel for a day. A slim silver bar with mild detailing is all you should need.
Following ties, the a pocket square is a mandatory feature of your outfit. And the only real rule is to never, ever match the hankie to your tie, unless ‘budget wedding package’ is the theme of the day (which it never is). Otherwise, go your hardest with colours, patterns, and so on.
Every man should own a good pair of cufflinks. Make sure they match the colour of the rest of your jewellery (i.e. don’t mix gold with silver) and there’s nothing wrong with a subtle novelty piece – plain cufflinks have been done ad nauseam before.
Another area where you can add some colour – but avoid the pull of being the ‘funny socks guy’. Alternatively, if you are one for an exposed ankle, invisible socks are a great option – just ensure you’ve brushed up on dress codes as some race days are notorious for knocking gents back if they’re sans socks.
This is governed by the style norms you’d see anywhere else: when in doubt, less is more. Resist the urge to deck yourself out in six wristbands and a ring-per-finger like an extra in a pirate movie.
Final Tips for On The Day
Whether you’re a consummate dandy already or more of an emerging sartorial force, racing season is the ultimate opportunity to dabble where you haven’t before. And if that means playing with some bold prints in the accessories department, opting for contrasting separates or simply changing up your sock colour, don’t be afraid to venture outside the lines.
Regardless of your look, the ultimate style statement is remaining upright until the final race – after that, all bets are off. Dress well and happy punting.